‘This is the next step in saving lives’: New alcohol detection technology being tested in vehicles

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 4:28 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 6:15 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia is taking another step forward to put the brakes on drunk driving.

Over the last few years, James River Transportation has taken part in a test commercial program with alcohol detection technology. Now that tech will embark on a new adventure across the nation.

On Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) and Schneider (NYSE: SNDR) announced the latter would conduct a trial use of a new alcohol detection system. This technology was developed through the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) Program.

The new version of the sensors, similar to the concept of a breathalyzer, will be placed in the cab of several Schneider tractors. It is the next step in finding the best technology to make the roads safer and save lives.

“Drunk driving remains our number one traffic safety problem, costing us billions of dollars in economic damages, but worse - quantifiable grief to families and communities,” said Rob Strassburger, President & CEO of ACTS.

On average, drunk driving kills roughly 10,000 people each year in the United States. In 2020, Virginia had 6,624 alcohol-related crashes: 3,386 alcohol-related injuries and 272 alcohol-related fatalities.

“The DADSS technology will take the guesswork out of blood alcohol measurement by allowing the driver to quickly, easily, and reliable know if they are at or above the legal limit,” said Virginia DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb.

In 2018, the Commonwealth embarked on its “Driven to Protect Initiative,” working with the DADSS program. Drivers with James River Transportation were the first to test these alcohol detection sensors.

“For them, it was fun because they’re part of the solution,” said James River Transportation President Stephen Story.

Those sensors were placed discretely in the driver door panel and behind the steering wheel in four of its vehicles.

The data gathered over the last few years helped KEA Technology change its sensors.

“We had a couple false tests; mouth wash has high alcohol content,” Story said. “Our cleaning materials, such as Windex, has a high alcohol content – so we had some of those issues. It would spike up, we’d get notified… and then it would drop down really rapidly, so we could tell it was a false positive.”

However, now that technology will be tested among Schneider truck drivers.

“Schneider will outfit a total of eight tractors with breath sensors in 2022, and we will log more than 100,000 sensor miles for each vehicle that has been outfitted,” said Schneider, Vice President of Safety, Driver Training and Compliance Tom DiSalvi.

The driver of the truck will blow into both or one of the sensors in the cab, which will then calculate your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

“As if you’re blowing a candle,” said Bud Zaouk, President and CEO of KEA Technology & DADSS program manager. “Hopefully, in the very near future, you’re just breathing passively and normally, and the sensor will pick it up.”

That type of technology is currently being tested in consumer vehicles in a lab, hoping to roll it out to the public by 2024. It would allow the car to start, but the car will not move if your BAC is at or above the legal limit.

“I don’t think there will be much push back,” said Emily Curtis, Virginia State Coordinator with SADD. “I think the masses do agree that you shouldn’t drive while impaired.”

Another sensor KEA Technology is working on in the lab is a touch-based sensor based on the direction consumer vehicles are being manufactured.

“Integration in a push to start button, or anything that you touch – steering wheel, shift stick knob,” Zaouk said. “Anything that you touch in a vehicle will shine a light into the finger; that reflected light comes back with an optical signature of alcohol and how much alcohol there is.”

The goal is to target fleet vehicles by 2023 deployment and 2025 for consumer applications.

“This is the next step in saving lives,” Zaouk added. “Seat belts really made a big difference in saving lives - this is our next step. We have to eliminate or help eliminate drunk driving.”

According to a study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), when widely deployed in all vehicles, technology like the alcohol detection system could help save more than 9,000 lives each year.

More information on this project can be found here.

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